Shhh, shut the fuck up.
I’m gonna do the asking around here if you—
Your novel is about an impressionist, Giovanni Bernini. Who does he impersonate?
Great question. As a child, he has no control, really, over whom he impersonates. Then as he gets older, he starts to rein it in. At first, I think, he’s drawn to people who seem especially alive, charismatic. As he gets older, he prizes self-sufficiency. His word is “unrequiring.” He’s so malleable that he envies people who aren’t. He eventually becomes this very cold character, this nightclub owner named Bernard, in order to save himself from feeling too much, probably.
Sounds like one of those novels people would call voice-driven. Who are your influences?
Brilliant question. Yes, I think so. I think if you like the book, it’ll be because you like the way the language piles up. I’ve always loved books that are big on voice, whether first-, second-, or third-person. It’s the language of the telling that seems to me so often the real plot of the thing. Some of my favorites, at random, are Barry Hannah, Knut Hamsun, Virginia Woolf, Thomas Bernard, Ishiguro, and Beckett.
Okay let’s get back to The Poser. Is there a love story? Talk to me about the women in the novel.
The book’s got whatever you need, baby. Men, women, Zinc, the internet! There are many women in the book – the three principals are Mama, Giovanni’s mother, who is the biggest influence on his life and a chronic encourager of his imitations, for better or worse. Giovanni later meets Lucy, a seductive nightclub singer, who is the first person he can’t imitate. They have a pretty charged love affair. Later on his life, he has a more honest relationship with a woman, a photographer named Amelia whom he meets in an insane asylum (best place to meet people, hands down.)
Lucy sounds sexy, but maybe not like girlfriend material? There’s also fast-talking, rotund talent manager Maximilian Horatio, and a shady nightclub owner Bernard Apache. What did you discover about nightclubs from your experiences performing in a hip-hop band and doing stand-up?
Thank you for asking this question. I’m sure a lot of what I picked up in my experience as a performer was unconscious. In my experience, nightclubs often feel like docking bays for a ship—every night this show, often a traveling act, appears on the stage, and it’s the job of the club to support and hold this act before it set offs. I imagine it’s a similar feeling around boats or airports. The roadies, the sound guys, the managers. They’re all negotiating gear, speaking into headsets, preparing for this semi-magical, accident-prone thing to launch.
You grew up in New York and still live here. Is the City in the book based on Manhattan?
Yes, definitely. The book itself is set in a shadowy world that resembles America of the 40s, 50s, but isn’t. The City definitely steals from the New York I know, with some differences. I think what I used most was – and what Giovanni’s predilections as a character allowed me to explore—are the ways the city demands a certain kind of behavior. The way you walk down a crowded street, the way you are “supposed” to fend off the pleas of the homeless. These are gestural routines Giovanni, as a close observer of human behavior, is especially sensitive to.
The final section of the novel introduces a psychiatrist called Dr. Orphels. How did growing up in a family of psychiatrists affect writing this part of the novel?
My grandfather, father, aunt, and uncle are all psychiatrists. I think it helped me know the language, the jargon a little bit. It’s a field that’s always fascinated me. I often think of becoming one. I think they get a bad rap – psychiatrists. I mean, some are terrible, but a lot aren’t. They’re trying to be responsible, to use a clinical approach to examine people’s most vulnerable, inner, messy territories. I’ve grown up around the language and insights of psychoanalysis my whole life. It’s, for better or worse, a second nature for me, to plumb for the unconscious or untold motivation behind something.
Does this make you paranoid?
Why the fuck do you ask?
Have all the psychiatrists in your family read the book?
What did they think?
They all really liked it!
What’s next for you?
I’m working on a novel that is a comedy. I am also working with my partner Taylor Materne on several TV pitches and a couple of feature scripts.
That’s cool about the Hollywood stuff, but I meant like after this interview, today, what are we doing now?
I’ve got a busy day of not going to the gym ahead of me.
JACOB RUBIN’S writing has appeared in Best New American Voices, New York magazine, Slate, n + 1, and The New Republic. Times Square, a screenplay he co-wrote, was recently acquired by Focus Features. He received an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Mississippi, and graduated magna cum laude from Harvard College. He lives in New York City.